An Answer To Prayer
As I've mentioned before, one of the reasons for my pursuit of a PhD is because it is highly unlikely that my book will be considered for publication by a major publisher unless I have a doctorate. Additionally, the research involved in the process will prove vital to the case that I am making in this book.
Last year, I learned that most PhD programs have an admissions committee that sifts through all of the applications to the program, determining who is in and who is out. Thus, when I was selecting my classes for the fall of 2019 I spent a lot of time prayerfully reading through all of the possible classes I could take, hoping to land on courses from professors who actually sit on the admissions committee at the University of South Carolina. I also met with the chair of the philosophy department and he forthrightly told me that I should take the course on Aristotle since the professor of that class is the chair of this committee. I was grateful for that much information, but didn't feel it was appropriate to ask for more. Asking, "Hey, can you tell me the names of everyone else who sits on this admissions committee?" would probably have left a bad impression. I've read that many universities are very secretive about this information. So, I seriously prayed about it, asking God for guidance and wisdom, and I made an educated guess. I only had one shot because I had only one more philosophy class to take, a class on Logic.
I chose a class taught by an older professor, a man who has been teaching logic for decades. I picked his class for a couple of reasons. First, he is not too far from retirement, and I thought it likely that the admissions committee would want at least one professor who is older and wiser sitting in to give counsel. Second, he has published a book on American Pragmatism. I figured I could read his book and discuss it with him in an effort to get to know him better. Additionally, I devoured all kinds of other materials on American Pragmatism to enable me to have intelligent conversations with him about it. Since there is a lot of overlap between Pragmatism and Philosophy of Science (my specialty) I found it all quite fascinating. So, we had several conversations about these topics.
One day I stopped in his office being honestly curious about a paper I had just read in an academic journal (I won't bore you with the details). I also mentioned that I'm planning on applying to the PhD program in philosophy. He immediately responded by saying, "Yes, you should do that!" I said, "Should? Why would you say I should?" He said, "I've never met anyone who could converse with me about all of these different philosophical subjects. No one has ever carried on a conversation with me about the works of Charles Peirce and G.W.F. Hegel like you can. I think you should apply." At this moment I took a deep breath, gulped, and said, "Okay. If I applied would you be willing to write me a letter of recommendation?" He said, "Sure. I'd be happy to."
Now, this was exciting enough. Getting a letter of recommendation from someone who is in the very department I'm applying to would give me a definite advantage. But that's not all. Within a few minutes we were talking about the admissions process, and the admissions committee in particular. He then said, "Yeah, I actually sit on the admissions committee. There are only four of us. It's me, the chair, and two others." I was stunned, blown away. God had answered my prayer, leading me to take a class from another faculty member who actually sits on the committee. In fact, there are more than 30 different faculty members in the philosophy department. The list of classes I could have taken is really quite long. But, by the grace of God, I managed to land in a class from one of the other three people (in addition to the chair) who sits on the committee. I walked away from that conversation praising God for his faithfulness in answering my prayer!
I mentioned in my last update that I was thinking I needed to get some kind of job to help us out financially. It was a bit of a challenge to find something that would not conflict with my class schedule. But, by the mercy of God, I found something. I'm now working at the UPS Air Hub in Columbia as a freight-handler. It's definitely not glorious. In fact, it's pretty intense. But it's honest labor. I work the ultra-early-morning shift, usually getting up at 3 AM to go into work (and some days it's as early as 2 AM!). Getting enough sleep with this kind of shift is a bit of a challenge. But so far I'm not suffering any serious ill effects. I think I can keep it up for a few months. If I get accepted into the PhD program I will get a small stipend that might be able to replace this income. Thus, if all goes well, I might only need to survive until September of 2020.
And in addition to working at UPS, taking classes, and writing my book, I'm also still doing freelance editing work, writing my blog, and I just (last week) finally took the GRE exam. So, my life is rather busy right now!
I'm getting signed up for next semester's classes. So far, I'm registered for a hefty course on Human Evolution that I'm super excited to take. I'm also considering organic chemistry (which is a prerequisite of Molecular and Cellular Biology, which, in turn, is a prerequisite of Human Genetics -- a course that will really help me with the book I'm writing). Whether or not I can take this (or any other) classes is unclear, partly due to financial concerns, and partly due to the time commitment required. One step at a time . . .
Academic Work and Research
2,300 years ago Aristotle launched the discipline of biology. Thus, my class on Aristotle provided me ample opportunity to research philosophical work on biological issues. Two weeks ago, I submitted a very long paper on the applicability of Aristotle's principles of biological classification to a particular controversy in anthropology. It is a bit surprising how he had such a common sense approach. I am convinced that if he were alive today he would be aghast by the animal rights movement. He regularly wrote about the uniqueness (he even said "divinity") of humanity, insisting that human beings unquestionably have the greatest worth of any creature on this planet.
And my class on genetics was a lot of fun. It is amazing how even a class on genetics does not require any discussion of evolutionary theory. Since the class focused only on solid science the word "evolution" was virtually never used. Indeed, for the whole semester the word was mentioned only five times (I kept a careful count). It's funny how something that is supposed to be so central to our understanding of biology does not even need to be mentioned in order to, well, understand biology. Why? My answer: Evolution is more theology (and bad theology) than science.
As our family gets ready to celebrate its second Christmas in the South, we are definitely missing the snow in Vermont. Augustina and Wesley have been talking a lot about Vermont lately, explaining all the ways that they miss it. And Stephanie and I definitely miss many members of our church family at NAAC, and some friends from the Burlington area. Those of you who are Vermonters, please know that we still miss you dearly. In addition to letting you know that you are missed, we also want to say a big thank you for your support. This project would not be possible without you!
Jim, Stephanie, Augustina, and Wesley
PRAYER REQUESTS: As you saw in the video, please pray for us regarding our family time in light of all that we have going on, and that we would find a home church in the Columbia area. Please also pray that I have the strength and energy needed to keep working my jobs and to still have the concentration needed for writing, research, and coursework. And please make it a point to pray that I will get accepted into the PhD program. From what I hear (I'm not 100% sure) I I will know by the end of February if I am accepted or not.
PS: Some people recently asked if it is possible to donate to my project on a one-time basis and not pay any kind of transaction fee. If that is a question you have, please know you can donate very easily through PayPal. You just need to use my email address (firstname.lastname@example.org).